Let Me Die
Rated : R
They say that everything is obvious with hindsight. Looking back, I agree. What happened should have been detected by us all a lot sooner. It wasn't just that we were distracted at the time. We were fighting life and death battles constantly. Karai had become more than a mere thorn in our sides; she was lethal and determined to destroy all of us.
Leonardo and Master Splinter had been focused on a strategy to keep Karai at a distance. I had been tinkering with my inventions and gadgets. We didn't see it coming. But we should have. Raphael had always been a loner, someone who felt things a lot more intensely than the rest of us. We thought the fresh wounds were from battles, and didn't notice his descent into a very dark place. His red eyes and frustration didn't even register until it was almost too late.
Depression is a strange and debilitating illness. I know a little about the condition, although my interest isn't from personal experience. I have read about depression and understand how it can cause a person to slide into their own personal Hell. I thought we were immune to it; people suffered with the illness. Not mutant turtles.
Besides, when did we have the time to be depressed? We were always fighting for our lives or engaged in training and strategy. The time for personal introspection was little to none, and so none of us saw the changes in Raphael until he was well past the point of no return.
Looking back, I wish I could inform my past self of what was occurring. Raphael seemed beaten down and during one of our many battles had literally given up - waiting for the fall of a sword to end his life. Leo had intervened before The Foot had the opportunity to finish him off. The lecture afterwards was legendary. Even I was cringing at Leonardo's harsh words, meant to inflame Raphael, to make him angry, to make him react.
When Leonardo realised that Raphael wasn't reacting, except for hunched shoulders as if he were expecting a blow, his voice softened and his berating ceased. He went quiet and brooding as we all trudged home, occasionally sneaking a glance at his younger brother.
At home, the episode was quickly forgotten amidst a haze of training, battle plans and strategy assessments. Master Splinter was pressing us hard; no doubt preparing us for the trials ahead.
During one training session I was paired with Raphael. Usually I would hate to be sparring with the brother who made short work of me. However, Raphael fought on autopilot; his movements almost sluggish as he blocked and weaved to avoid my bo thrusts. I was the one to win this training session, but Raphael barely acknowledged his defeat. He shrugged and left the dojo before I could get my head around his defeatist attitude.
Our fights became more intense and The Foot onslaught was ruthless. We were engaged in battles at least three times a week. It wasn't uncommon to see fresh wounds and bruises on my brothers, but Raphael seemed to be faring worst when it came to injuries. His arms were covered with cuts - raw and deep and angry. His legs were also covered with wounds, but I failed to notice them appearing daily. He would disappear to his room and return with fresh wounds, and I hate myself for not interpreting what was happening. He was crying out for help in the only way he could. Eyes red and raw and hopeless.
When a wound on his arm became infected, he tried to hide it from us at first. When I discovered this I was livid, and laid into him for not coming to me for treatment straight away. I was angry and hurt and bemused by the whole situation, and that made me lash out at Raphael more forcefully than I had intended.
Raphael bore my anger with hunched shoulders, and waited for the tidal wave to end. Then he shrugged, as was his custom now, and shuffled off to his room. For the next two hours I was seething. Hiding an infection from me was really going to make me mad. When Raphael emerged from his room, there was a fresh cut on his leg. He seemed at peace somewhat, his face still solemn and worn.
Raphael began to spend more time in his room. He wouldn't come join us for meals and we had to take something to him just to make sure he was fed. I pushed open his door with an evening meal, and discovered him sitting on his bed and twirling his sai. The sai fell from his grip when he saw me, startled, and he turned away from me as I put down a tray next to him.
His personal hygiene had gone completely. Leo had to force him into the shower, and the small daily tasks I took for granted like brushing my teeth and general personal care evaporated over time for Raphael. We all began to notice him scruffy and smelling bad but none of us had the time to pry him for the truth. Maybe we were too busy. Or maybe we were afraid it could lead to something that would be hard to deal with.
Whatever the reason, it took one fateful day to finally bring Raphael's depression out into the open. The day he finally gave up and looked for a way out, a way to die. He had planned it meticulously so his own body would remain undiscovered thereby eliminating pain to us. He had left a note saying he was leaving for South America, and would return once he had found peace again.
Leonardo, Master Splinter and myself didn't even see it coming. Karai was our main concern, and we hoped Raphael would recover and come to his senses. We needed him to be Raphael again; spontaneous, strong and loyal to the point of absurdity.
It was Mikey who saved the day. Mikey who had also been quiet during Raphael's depression. He had been watching Raphael like a hawk noting everything from the raw wounds on his flesh, to the hopelessness in his eyes. Mikey had seen where this was heading, and had been waiting for the right moment to act. It turned out that Mikey had been aware of the self-harming, and had encouraged Raph to talk to the rest of us about it. Of course, that was something Raphael couldn't do.
Raphael's suicide plan was simple, and relied on us all to be too busy to even notice his disappearance. I wasn't falling for it for a second. Unlike the others, I wasn't distracted by Karai or The Foot. When one of my brothers isn't well, I'm always the first to notice. Being the most agile of my brothers, following him to the harbour demanded no real skill. He was seriously distracted and I kept a firm watch over him as I continued to shadow his every move. I watched intently as Raphael sat on the wooden boards, his legs pulled together and his body taut.
Raphael jumped. He turned slowly and faced me, his hands tightening on his sai.
"Mike. What ya doin' here? Ever heard of me-time."
I walked over to Raphael and sat beside him. "Didn't know you liked the harbour so much. Nice place. Come here a lot?"
Raphael turned away from my light conversation. He was still distracted, and I hate to say it, almost vulnerable in his pain. He flicked out a sai, and flipped it over in his hand. He was dark and brooding.
"Gonna be here for a while, Mikey." Raphael's voice had a finality to it that made me catch my breath.
"It's ok, Raph. We haven't hung out for a while. I'll just hang around here."
Raphael ground his teeth in frustration. "Not much fun to be around, Mikey. Might as well head on back home. I'll see you later."
There are times when I just know when Raph is lying. This is one of those times. I'll see you later. Yeah right. As if I couldn't see straight through that one.
"I don't mind, Raph. I kinda like the harbour. View's nice and the lapping water feels peaceful. I'll stay."
I could almost feel the cogs in Raph's brain whirring as he tried to think of an exit strategy, something that involved him being alone.
"Okay then. I'll head off. You enjoy the view." Raphael stood up and turned to leave. He seemed on the verge of saying something, then stopped. Deftly, I flipped to my feet and placed a hand firmly on his shoulder, preventing him from walking away.
"Let me go, Mikey. I'm not in the mood. Wanna be by myself." Raphael was spitting out the words, his muscles flexing as he restrained himself from slapping my hand away. No doubt he was thinking that was the last memory he'd be leaving me with, and he didn't want it to be something negative.
"I don't think that's a good idea, Raphy." I said softly. Raphael tensed up at the nickname I'd often called him when I was younger. I hadn't used it in years, but it was an instant balm to Raph's ever changing cyclic moods.
His eyes finally locked onto mine, and I drew my hand away from his shoulder. He couldn't find the words to tell me to go away, couldn't find the energy or strength to fight me off. He knew I was staying with him and there was no words to dissuade me. Finally, horror came to his expression as he realised I knew. I had figured him out. His expression darkened with shame and he turned away and looked at the water.
"It didn't have to come to this." I said. "Why didn't you talk to us?"
"Are you going to leave or stay. Either way, I'm finishing this." Raphael's determination caught me off-guard. I placed my hand awkwardly on his shoulder again, panicking he might run off at any second.
"I'm staying." I could be just as determined when I wanted to be. "I don't want you going out alone, Raph. Can I have a hug? Just one hug."
Raphael's shoulders sank. He hated hugs. They were as rare from him as they were common from me. "Do I have ta?"
I nodded eagerly and opened my arms to him. "Come on, Raphy. One last hug."
He didn't realise his mistake until I had him firmly wrapped up and my fingers quickly found the pressure point at the back of his neck. He hadn't even thought of that, had only wanted to placate me enough for him to finish what he'd started. As he went limp in my arms and I lifted him over my shoulder and carried him back to The Lair, I wondered what I was going to say to the others. Raphael's body was lighter than it should be. He had been depressed for quite some time, barely touching his food.
As I hefted his sleeping form back to the Lair, I heard a gasp from behind me. Leonardo was shadowing me. Just how long had he been there?
"Mikey? What happened to Raph?" Leo was far from panicking. His eyes had seen it all over the years, and an unconscious brother was a very familiar situation. "Was it Karai? The Foot?"
I wasn't prepared for what was coming next.
The Foot or Karai, well, I could deal with those. Raphael's suicide plan was another matter altogether. I had barely enough time to register Mikey's words, before the whole world came crashing down on top of me.
Raph? Commit suicide? Slitting his wrists at the harbour and letting his body slide into the water, weighted by a heavy stone? Didn't he realise what that would do to our family? Losing him would crush us all.
It was unfathomable. Raphael was, by far, the strongest guy I knew. Perhaps the strongest of all of us. He had a cynical and belligerent attitude, but I'd never seen his character as a problem until now. With everything that we were dealing with at the moment, I hadn't even noticed him becoming withdrawn. Splinter and I had been consumed with defeating Karai as she was throwing everything at us in a desperate bid to finally destroy us. We were literally living from moment to moment, unaware of Raph's decline.
Mikey wasn't burdened with leadership or responsibility. His eyes saw everything, the bigger picture. Whilst our focus was on planning battle and surviving the aftermath, Mike had been keenly aware of our mental states and coping abilities. He'd seen the slide and taken it onto himself to protect Raphael. From himself.
Michelangelo had matured greatly in his twenties. He was still bubbly, fun and outgoing but his eyes were hardened, his teenage eccentric ways melting into a more adult version of his former self. It was inevitable that Mikey would grow and shed his immature ways, but I wasn't truly aware of the understanding he now possessed. His eyes saw everything. Whenever I was upset about something, Mikey knew instinctively. It was a gift.
I didn't offer to help carry Raphael. Mikey was as determined as I'd ever seen him, and I realised that this was his battle. He was at the forefront of this plan, and had already stopped Raphael from committing suicide tonight.
Even though I am a leader, I can also follow when necessary. Michelangelo was more experienced in helping others. I was a protector, saving those who were weaker than myself. Mikey was the type to hang around at the end of a battle and talk to the casualties. He always knew what made other people tick; he saw their quirks and connected with them on a much deeper level.
Upon reaching The Lair, Mikey lay Raphael's unconscious form on the couch and called an impromptu meeting. We all listened, horrified, as Michelangelo filled us in on Raphael's decline and his suicide plan. We quickly found the note, which confirmed everything Mikey had said. Whilst waiting for our brother to waken, we spoke in hushed whispers about what we were to do next.
Master Splinter and Michelangelo seemed to have it all in hand. They both looked determined and capable; expecting anything. Donatello and I remained fixed to the spot, rooted.
Very rarely had anything ever truly frightened me. I had a childish fear of heights when I was a toddler which I quickly overcame with Master Splinter's help. The one thing that truly terrified me was the loss of family. One of my brothers, or Splinter, wounded and killed. Knowing there was nothing I could do to save them.
I am well trained and capable. If someone wished to physically harm one of my loved ones, I'd see it coming. If someone wanted to harm any of my brothers, or my sensei, I would bring them death within seconds.
How was I to fight an enemy that resided inside Raphael? The question had me trembling with fear, and for me, that is extremely unusual. I talk to my brothers often, but feelings are not something we usually discuss. I didn't even know where to begin.
Michelangelo, however, seemed highly intuitive in this area. He almost sensed another's pain, and this had brought relief to all of us over the years.
Now, it was proving to be crucial. Raphael had been committed to a fatalistic plan that I hadn't even been aware of. Raphael planning anything at all was strange in itself. The only conclusion I could come to was that he meant it. He meant to die, and planned everything to ensure its success.
The only detail he had missed was his own brother's instincts. Michelangelo was more a hero to me now than he had ever been. I felt lucky to have him leading this battle, along with our gentle father who was no doubt criticising himself for letting so much go amiss. I was criticising myself also, a sick feeling rising in my stomach.
If Mikey hadn't been Mikey, well, Raphael would already be dead.
Life is such a precious gift. One that should never be taken for granted or abused.
I had instilled this belief in all of my sons. I trained them to ensure their own survival.
Never, in all my years, did I see this one coming. Boys will be boys, and my turtles have fought enemies their entire lives. Now Raphael was waging war on his own. A psychological war. A war against the dark inside his own mind and heart.
I didn't even know his personal battle was raging. He had lost this battle and planned on snuffing out his own precious light. Distracted and ageing, my eyes were cloudy from the years and from constant pressure from our enemies. Guiding Leonardo to protect the family when I eventually die was something at the forefront of my mind.
I didn't consider that absolute hopelessness and despair was possible in Raphael. Out of his brothers, he is perhaps the most negative; his views on the world are cynical. However, he has always been a fighter, and not prone to giving up.
For Raphael to give up and believe this was the only way out ... that drove a sai right through my heart. My mind now focused on the situation, Michelangelo and I devised a strategy to help Raphael once he regained consciousness.
We quickly formulated a plan to follow. Raphael, once awake, might continue with his self-destructive urges until he was dead. There might be no talking him out of this fatalistic state, so we were all to remain mindful. If Raphael could not be reasoned with and tried to follow through with his suicide plan, then sedation would be the final option. Donatello had all the medication to keep Raphael sedated for several hours at a time.
As a ninja, Raphael knew how to kill himself within seconds. It was crucial to bar his attempts whilst we attempted to reason with him. Heavy restraints were decided; wrists bound and feet tied to restrict movement. Donatello had a paralysing drug which worked to keep the subject subdued and unable to move about; but Raphael would be able to slur words and talk to us. It was a messy and temporary solution, but more than anything we hoped to get through to Raphael. Reach the spark deep within his mind and find his will to live. It was a faint hope, but one which my sons embraced immediately and set into motion.
Donatello rummaged through his laboratory for the paralysing drug. It took over ten minutes for him to find because his workplace is so cluttered but eventually he had the drug ready.
Leonardo shifted Raphael into a more comfortable position on the couch, fetched a blanket and a pillow for his comfort and settled behind the sofa. Leonardo was going to remain close to Raphael, within range for an intervention if Raphael did manage to try anything to hurt himself.
Michelangelo seemed to be rehearsing his next conversation with Raphael. He was mumbling to himself and running through every scenario. Finally he turned to me and smiled gently.
"Everything is going to be okay, Master." I nodded at my youngest boy, so mature in this situation, and felt my heart swell with pride. Each of my sons had their own function within the team and Michelangelo's role was central to the group dynamic. He was the heart of this family, bringing us all together in a time of crisis with his own distinctive style of leadership.
The final part of the plan involved contacting an old friend. I took this task in hand, my experience in the astral plane is much more evolved than my sons, and I found my contact almost immediately. After what my sons have dubbed Mind Phoning, I settled on a chair and watched Raphael sleep.
Finally, Donatello brought out steaming cups of tea for all of us, and we settled back and waited for Raphael to awaken.
I woke to the sound of soft voices discussing something I couldn't quite make out. I kept my eyes shut for a while, unwilling to open them and face the world again. I had really thought my plan was going to work, until Mikey turned up and knocked me unconscious before I had time to react.
I knew they were all there. All gathered round me. I could imagine their disappointed faces and I didn't want to see them looking at me in fear. I kept my breathing regular, like I was still sleeping, and hoped they hadn't noticed I was now conscious.
I felt a slight pricking sensation in my arm and my eyes shot open. Donatello towered over me, a syringe in his hand.
"Don? What the? What's that?" I could feel the effects of the drug he'd given me almost straight away. My body went slack and numb, my eyes trying to focus on my family.
I had expected disappointment and fear. Instead, I saw concern and love. They were all staring at me, sitting expectantly and waiting for me to say something else.
"We could tell when you woke up. Good effort with the breathing though. If we weren't your brothers, we would have never known you were awake." Leonardo put a hand on my plastron, and I tried to move away from the contact but found myself unable to move.
A paralysing agent. Great. "Foot. Karai. Danger."
Leo patted my plastron. "Don't worry about it. We called in some help. A specialist."
I felt so confused. They were all sitting around and watching me intensely. What specialist?
Leonardo continued. "He was quite upset to find out you were in such a bad way. I think he's going to make sure Karai won't come after us for a long time."
"He? Specialist? Who?" I was becoming more confused by the second. I would have given anything for a straight answer. My words seemed slurred and unsteady. I hated the tremble in my voice. I felt ashamed by my own weakness.
Leo smiled. He seemed calm, more peaceful. As if the weight of battle had been lifted from his shoulders. Master Splinter seemed calm too. The whole thing was starting to freak me out a little. Someone was fighting our battles for us? I didn't like that one bit.
"My son, The Ancient One has learned of our situation and has intervened personally." Master Splinter was watching me carefully. "He is visiting with Karai at this very moment. He has already assured us that we are now free of this burden. I am not sure how The Ancient One will accomplish this, but I know he would never promise such a feat unless he could ensure it."
Ancient One? My head was reeling. I felt a low throbbing in my head and closed my eyes. That meant they would be focusing on me. Just on me. What could I say to diffuse the situation? I knew that Leonardo, especially, would be sitting close to me anticipating my next move. I braved a peek and saw Leonardo standing to my right side behind the couch, his hand gently rubbing my plastron. Behind Leo, Donatello sat on a chair quietly. Master Splinter was sitting directly to my left with Michelangelo behind him. Mikey was smiling at me reassuringly, and I felt my eyes close once again in disappointment. Why couldn't Mikey have just let me go?
"It's okay, Raph. We're all here. You can talk or just stay silent. Whatever you want to do." Mikey seemed oddly confident, and I felt his hand squeeze my numb arm.
I weighed my options carefully. I felt incapable of bringing a swift end to myself in this environment; being unable to move really limited my chances of success. I could try biting off my own tongue, but everything felt languid and slow. I couldn't concentrate on my plan. Besides, Leonardo would be on me in a second, forcing my mouth open and inserting something to stop me chomping down. I couldn't do it with them all looking at me expectantly. The pain it would bring them all to see me die in front of them is something I wouldn't even wish on my worst enemy. My plan relied on them not realising I was dead, leaving them with the hope that I might return in the future. I couldn't do it now as they would be left with this horrible memory for the rest of their lives. I groaned in helpless frustration.
I was stuck.
I opened my eyes again and felt tears scorch my eyes. Couldn't they see how much I was suffering here? Couldn't they turn their backs for one moment?
"Raphy?" Mikey had sidled past Master Splinter and was holding my hand carefully in his. I turned my head away, with great effort, and felt a tear sliding down my face.
It couldn't get much worse. Leo would spot the tear at once. I felt him shift as he edged closer to me immediately. His hand lingered on my plastron, as if he was silently imparting his own inner strength upon me.
"Please, I can't bear all this. Guys, I need to be alone." I heard the words come out, but they felt like they had come from some other being. I felt the weight of bodies moving and I opened my eyes once more. Leonardo and Donatello had backed off. Master Splinter had turned away, but Mikey's eyes were still on me.
"Mikey?" I pleaded, hoping against hope that he would back off.
Mikey shook his head with a forced smile. "I'm going to stay, Raph. Just for a while."
I couldn't shift him forcefully. I could barely move my hand. Sighing, I accepted his presence and closed my eyes again. I felt a weighty tiredness come over me, felt everything become distant. I slipped into an uneasy sleep, the feel of my hand gripped by Mikey was warm and secure, keeping me anchored. Someone felt my forehead at one point, a warm hand brushing my skin. I could hear voices in the background. I wanted to sleep forever, I had no desire to ever wake again.
A few times I awoke with a start. I felt like I was falling and gripped Mikey's hand uncomfortably tight at one point. The muscle relaxant Donny had used was still affecting me, and I found it hard to breathe. I drifted a little while longer until I smelt food.
My eyes shot open. Mikey was still sat next to me, his hand covering my own. Leo and Donny were rationing the pizza in the kitchen - I could hear their voices, oddly echoing.
"Hungry, bro?" Mikey asked gently. I looked into his eyes and he smiled at me. I couldn't find the energy to even attempt a smile, so I just lay there. I grunted and tried to turn my head away from Mikey's searching gaze.
"Raph wants a slice." Mikey yelled into the kitchen. "Make it quick."
"Mikey, s'ok. I'm not hungry." My stomach was churning at the smell of pizza, but I didn't want to eat. I didn't want to do anything except close my eyes and pretend that everything had gone to plan.
Mikey grabbed the slice from Leo as soon as he was within reach. He waved it under my beak and smiled as my stomach grumbled loudly. "Something inside you is telling me something else. Go on. Just take one bite. If you don't want any more, I'll finish it off."
I nibbled the slice a little, just to get Mikey off my back.
Mikey watched as I nibbled the edges and held the slice closer. "A bite, Raph. Not a nibble. That doesn't count."
Frustrated, weak and helpless I chomped down on the slice angrily. Ground it up in my mouth and chewed the shell out of it. Mikey watched in delight as I swallowed and offered the slice again. I chomped down again, taking another supersized bite and chewed noisily.
I suddenly realised something. I was extremely hungry. Two bites of pizza had awakened my appetite, and I reached out for the slice and took the rest from Mikey. Within a couple of bites, the slice was gone.
Leo had brought out the box and left the whole steaming pizza, bar the slice I'd already eaten, at my side. I rolled over awkwardly, the muscle relaxant keeping me weak and feeble, and helped myself to another slice. Before long, half the pizza had disappeared. And for once, Mikey wasn't the cause of it.
I carried on mindlessly munching until the whole pizza had gone. I understood why people gained so much weight from eating fast food; the fat and grease was extremely comforting, and for a moment I had forgotten the abysmal pain and focused entirely on the cheese dripping double pepperoni masterpiece at my side.
Mikey didn't say a word, didn't complain about his share, didn't interrupt. He just sat waiting, and when the pizza was all inside me, he gave the empty box back to Leo.
I lay on my side, licking the last dredges of pizza sauce from around my mouth. I felt a lot stronger now, and slightly sick. It wasn't my habit to eat an entire family-sized pizza in one sitting but I had underestimated how hungry I truly was. Leo had brought out a glass of sparkling water and gave this to Mikey. Mikey offered the glass to me, and I drunk about two thirds of the contents with one swallow. I belched noisily.
I lay back down and felt my eyes close as tiredness suddenly overwhelmed me. Mikey had placed a hand on my shoulder and was kneading the flesh there. I sighed, exhausted.
"Raph, I need you to promise me something." I opened my eyes and looked up into Mikey's eyes. He seemed intense, focused. His hand was now digging into my shoulder and bruising my muscles.
"What?" I felt the agony of the weight on Mikey's shoulders. He was suffering and close to tears. I hated that I was the cause of his misery.
"Give us a week to turn things around for you. Donny has been at his computer for some hours now. There is some medication we can give you, some therapy Leo has been studying. Master Splinter wants to try counselling. It isn't over, Raph. We can get you out of this."
Everything inside me was screaming to die. I looked into Mikey's face and found his eyes cold and hard. Resolute. He leaned close to me, whispering certain words that the others couldn't hear.
"Raph? If you do this, I'm going to do it too. I don't want to live in world where you aren't here. If you die, you'll take me down too. Maybe all of us." I gasped in horror. Mikey was giving me an ultimatum. I couldn't let anything happen to him, he was my little brother. Even the thought of Mikey dead made my skin crawl. My body stiffened in terror, and I felt him grab my hand in his.
"You'll give us a week, Raph? Please?" Mikey had tears in his eyes. "Just one week."
I nodded. I couldn't let Mikey die because of me. If Mikey ended his own life because I'd ended mine, I'd want to go to hell for that one. Mikey was full of energy and light and all things good. I'd die to protect him in a heartbeat.
But that wasn't what he was asking of me. He was asking me to live to protect him.
I didn't know what I could say or do to make things right between us. I couldn't give him what he wanted, but I could give him hope. Shaking, I grabbed hold of his hand. I had never felt so terrified in my life. My hands wouldn't stop trembling. Not Mikey. Not Mikey.
I could stand a lot; torture, mutilation, even death.
I couldn't stand the thought of being the catalyst that brought my brothers down. They didn't deserve going out like that. I wished I'd never been born. I was cruel and vicious. I deserved to die. I wanted to die.
But for Mikey? I'd live. For now.
Croaking out the words felt like a betrayal of everything I had set into motion. I felt horrified by my own desperate attempt to keep Mikey from following my own dark path. The words felt wrong, but they immediately brought a warmth to Mikey's face.
He broke down completely, my hand anchoring him to me as he allowed tears to flow uninhibited.
I only said two words.
They were Mikey's lifeline.
All I said was; "I'll try."
Author's Note: I haven't been in good place recently, hence the dark fic. I am thinking of continuing this with each turtle contributing to Raphael's recovery in a sequel. Let me know if you'd want to read that. Sorry about the excessive amount of angst. Sometimes, feelings are better expressed through fiction.